Since essentially the dawn of the cell phone era, scientists have long warned that the radiation they emit might cause male fertility issues — and a new, long-term study out of Switzerland indicates that those concerns may be warranted.
As the University of Basel explains in a summary of the new research, there have been tons of studies showing that over the last 50 years, sperm counts have lowered significantly, with the average count per milliliter dropping from 99 million to just 47 million. Until now, however, there don't seem to have been any studies that have taken quite as broad a look at the apparent link between cell phone radiation and lowered sperm counts.
While there's no definitive answer as to how exactly the electromagnetic waves from cell phones affect sperm count — or anything else in our bodies, for that matter — there have been lots of prior studies that seem to demonstrate a link between cell phone use and lowered sperm count. As the UB press release points out, however, those prior studies weren't generally large or long enough to fend off professional criticism about their methodologies.
"Previous studies evaluating the relationship between the use of mobile phones and semen quality were performed on a relatively small number of individuals, rarely considering lifestyle information, and have been subject to selection bias, as they were recruited in fertility clinics," Rita Tahban, a genetic medicine researcher and the study's first author and co-leader, said in the press release. "This has led to inconclusive results."
This newer study, which was published in the journal Fertility & Sterility and conducted by research teams in the Swiss cities of Basel and Geneva, seems to differ from those that came before it primarily because of its size and length. As the researchers wrote, the cross-sectional study was conducted over 13 years, between 2005 and 2018, and looked at nearly 3,000 men who were aged 18-22 at the start of the research.
Although the researchers did find links between frequent cell phone use and lowered sperm counts, with the most frequent users (those who used their phones more than 20 times a day) and the lowest sperm counts (44.5 million per/mL), they also noticed that over time, those correspondences seems to ease as cellular technology improved.
"This trend corresponds to the transition from 2G to 3G, and then from 3G to 4G, that has led to a reduction in the transmitting power of phones — and thus their electromagnetic radiation," Martin Röösli, an associate professor with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and the University of Basel, said in the press release.
In future studies, the researchers plan to look not just at frequency of phone use cross-referenced with sperm counts over time, but also at the type of phone usage men engage in because some activities, like text messaging, emit lower electromagnetic waves than, say, streaming.
As such, this landmark study could be just the beginning of fruitful research into the topic.
"Do the microwaves emitted by mobile phones have a direct or indirect effect? Do they cause a significant increase in temperature in the testes? Do they affect the hormonal regulation of sperm production?" Rabahn mused. "This all remains to be discovered."
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